Hot-Water Tanks

The job that I first had in the Boston Naval Shipyard’s Planning and Estimating Division was especially challenging because I had to interact with many people in different organizations. There were often political problems that I had to work around, both within and without the Shipyard. Fortunately, each naval officer in the Division had a civilian assistant, a permanent incumbent who knew the ropes. My first such assistant was gregarious Edgar Richard, about five-years older than me and whose parents had migrated to Boston from French Canada. He and I were on the same wavelength from day one, but there was an occasion when I did not take his advice.

During World War II when non-ferrous metals were scarce, galvanized steel was often substituted for fittings in ships. Thus, in the mid-nineteen fifties galvanized hot-water tanks were at the end of their useful lives. Due to corrosion the hot water for galley taps, wash basins and showers was brown enough in color to adversely impact on morale. When non-corrosive copper-nickel tanks were introduced there was great demand for them but there weren’t enough funds to effect replacements in all ships at once. An assistant material officer in the Atlantic Fleet’s Destroyer Force found a way to profit from the situation.

Periodically, he authorized the Shipyard to manufacture a dozen or so copper-nickel tanks and to hold them pending disposition instructions. Then, he hung out at the officer’s club bar in the Naval Base in Newport, Rhode Island where destroyer commanding officers would buy him drinks. Within a day or two, the lush would send a message that authorized the Shipyard to release two or three tanks to a specific ship. That caused no problem until the boozer began to employ the same practice during his frequent visits to the Shipyard. Typically on a morning after, a destroyer skipper would show up with a scribbled note on the back of an envelope that authorized the release of a few more tanks. When the supply was depleted there was often a difference of opinion about how many the shipyard had delivered. Edgar Richard advised that my predecessor always conceded and then arranged for a one or two more tanks to be made at the Yard’s expense.

I advised Edgar, “That’s not my style. Each time we receive one of his drunken scrawls we will send a message to the Destroyer Force, marked for the sot’s attention. Each will advise, for example, ‘Per your hand-written authorization received this date, 2 copper-nickel hot water tanks were delivered to CO USS ____; balance on hand: 8.'”

Edgar responded, “You won’t get a letter of commendation from him.”

I replied, “That’s not what I’m here for!”



Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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